By Laura Scaletti
Portraits by Adrienne Morella
Three-day eventer Drew Cheek, 17, wears many hats; among them, dual-enrollment as a high school and college student, working student at Blue Hill Farm in Unionville, Pennsylvania, and equestrian entrepreneur. Like most self-proclaimed “horse crazy girls,” Drew was captivated by horses from the start. Born into an adventurous, yet not equine-enthusiastic family, Drew started her campaign to get her parents, David and Danielle, to buy her a horse at 6 years old.
After hearing how time-consuming and expensive horses were, Drew’s parents tried very hard to avoid horses. “When she first started asking for a horse, I said, ‘Here, try this motorcycle,’” said her mother, Danielle. “She was happy with the motorcycle for a while, but she always longed for horses.”
A family vacation to Florida was just what Drew needed to trade her motorcycle in for real horsepower. In the midst of fishing, camping and boating, Drew and family met up with some cousins who happened to have horses and did Pony Club. “My cousin Donna was the District Commissioner of Sea Fox Pony Club and began teaching us about Pony Club,” Danielle shared. “We sold Drew’s motorcycle to finance her first pony, Showbiz. I never would have embraced Drew’s passion without the backing of Pony Club.”
All In With Pony Club
Embrace it they did. After buying Showbiz, the Cheeks converted their garage into a barn, enabling Drew to keep her pony at home on their five acres. Showbiz reveled in her “home barn” living arrangements. “Some mornings, we would wake up to Showbiz at the front door whinnying for her grain,” Danielle said. “On a typical afternoon, you would find Drew riding Showbiz bareback around her swing set. David spent countless hours on the tractor trying to level out our sloping pasture for a proper place for them to ride.”
Having Showbiz at home was important in teaching Drew responsibility. “She had to care for her day and night. Seeing that in her at 12 years old made me want to do everything I could to help her achieve her dream,” Danielle shared.
It was at a Pony Club rally where Drew found her true calling. “I went to one eventing rally when I was 13 and I was hooked!” Drew said. “I just loved the thrill of cross-country.” Afterwards, Danielle and David were back at the drawing board trying to find a suitable horse for Drew to continue to pursue her eventing aspirations.
“What a scary thing, trying to buy your daughter a horse when you don’t know what you’re doing,” Danielle said. Luckily, a friend from Pony Club spotted an ad for a horse that looked like a perfect fit and Skylar, an off-the-track Thoroughbred, became Drew’s new eventing mount.
Twist of Fate
Once the Cheeks bought Skylar, Drew began doing Pony Club events with him and was flourishing. As Drew continued to show a real passion and dedication to her sport, Danielle began asking questions about this gig she had heard about called “working student.” “I had searched the internet, but it’s not like there’s a ‘Breaking Into the Event World for Dummies’ book,” Danielle said. That search for answers ended out of the blue at a horse show in Georgia.
“A girl, Brigitte, came up to me and said, ‘Is that Skylar? I used to own him. When you’re in Florida you need to have a lesson with Missy Ransehousen,’” Drew said. It turned out Brigitte not only was Skylar’s old owner, she was also a working student and barn manager in Kentucky at the time.
Knowing that her daughter was interested in being a working student, Danielle talked with Brigitte about what it meant to be a working student. “She was adamant that the only person she would send Drew to was Missy,” Danielle said. “I contacted Missy and we did some lessons with her in Florida. After a winter of lessons, I asked Missy if Drew could come up to her home barn in Pennsylvania that summer and see how it worked. Missy agreed to a six-week stay and the planning began.”
Arriving at Blue Hill Farm for the summer as a 14-year-old beginner novice was a bit overwhelming, but Missy and her mother, Olympian Jessica Ransehousen, quickly put Drew and Danielle at ease as they welcomed them to the Blue Hill Farm family. “I brought Skylar with me and that entire summer, he was lame,” Drew said. “Missy let me ride her five-star horse and compete him. It was such a thrill to have the opportunity to ride a horse of that caliber, let alone win on him.”
Making It Work
That initial summer was just the beginning of a great working relationship between Drew and Missy. “Every year, I stay longer and longer with Missy,” Drew said. This devotion and willingness to put in the long hours at Blue Hill Farm has endeared her to Missy.
“Drew has long days. We start at 5:30 a.m.,” Missy said. “Some days we are done at 4 p.m., some at 7 p.m. She knows long days are part of the deal. She has a very busy job, yet she jumps in and does what’s necessary all the time. When you have a barn full of horses, it’s essential to have someone like Drew who gets the job done without complaints.”
It may be a lot of work, but Drew has flourished as a working student. When her day feeding, riding and doing barn chores is done, Drew devotes the rest of her waking hours to her studies as a high school senior taking dual-enrollment online classes for business management. However, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Being a working student has taught me so much, not only about riding and how to care for competition horses properly, but it’s also taught me how to work with lots of different kinds of people. That education is priceless!” Drew said.
Drew has climbed the eventing ranks since arriving at Missy’s with her beginner novice horse. “Drew wanted to move up so we sold Skylar,” Missy said. “She then got two new Thoroughbreds to work with, one of which had never done training level eventing before. Drew started him as a three-day horse in January and by October was doing training level with him at Waredaca. She did a wonderful job bringing him along!”
This year, Drew has leased a horse, Slow Heart Break, barn name Tommy, while his owners Bonnie and Jeff Kibbie are busy with their young children. “I started showing him in Florida and moved up to the preliminary level,” Drew said. “We’ve done five preliminary events so far and I am hoping to make it to Young Rider’s Championships next year.”
Supporting the Dream
Although she’s had help from friends, family and trainers and even being a working student, it takes a lot to finance Drew’s dreams. “I’ve been telling Drew she’s almost 18 and will need to find a way to support herself before long,” Danielle said.
In April, Drew texted Danielle with her idea for a new product, the Drew Boot. “Most eventers have big, yellow ice boots. They are bulky, hard to travel with and difficult to put on the horse. I texted Mom and said, Let’s make an ice boot that rolls up, isn’t so expensive and is easier to use,” Drew said. “The Drew Boot is an affordable, water-tight ice boot for horses that actually rolls up and packs neatly, unlike the traditional rubber ice boots. The boot goes up higher than the standard ice boot, to cover the knee, which takes so much stress in eventing.”
After coming up with the initial idea, Drew and Danielle were off and running with mocking up the product and developing a prototype. “We were at a show in Pennsylvania and found a fabric supplier who also offered prototype services,” Danielle said. “This was just what we needed to make this thing happen.”
As fate would have it, the fabric supplier was located 45 mins from the Cheeks’ home in Georgia. Four prototypes later, the first batch of the final product will be available shortly.
“All of the proceeds go to supporting Drew’s riding endeavors,” Danielle said. “We will make that a big part of our marketing, as users of our boot know what it takes to make it in the eventing world. We are now up and running with a new website and hoping to promote the Drew Boot in Florida this winter. Drew will be an integral part of building the business to support herself.”
Drew is quick to point out that none of this would be possible without the endless support of her whole family. “They have been amazing in enabling me to live my dream and meet my goals,” Drew said. “Being an equestrian has truly shaped me into the person I am today, and if I could go back and do it differently, I wouldn’t. There have been so many amazing people I’ve been lucky enough to know and work with, and I’d like to think that if I keep hanging out with them, then one day someone else will be saying that about me.”
For more information, visit thedrewboot.com
Photos by Adrienne Morella, www.adriennemorella.com